Keen to get lifting but no idea where to begin? Personal trainer and Fernwood Moonee Ponds club manager Kristy Kaczmark talks us through the process.
The first step in starting a weights program is booking an appointment with a trainer. They will ask a series of questions to determine your health goals and fitness level, taking into account past activities and experiences with exercise, medical conditions and injuries.
This screening process will also assess your movement pattern to establish correct technique during exercise. Learning not only what looks right, but what feels right in the body, helps to master technique.
“It really is case-by-case as to where people start – what weight, what sort of movements,” says Kaczmark. “This will be largely determined by what sort of physical activity a person has done in the past.”
Your trainer will help you to set goals that are geared towards enjoyment and meaning, a key to long-term success. Kaczmark says the idea is to be motivated by what’s most important in your life.
“You may be driven by being more energetic to be able to play with your children,” says Kaczmark. “If your goal is to get stronger, a program will be designed to target the major muscle groups. If your goal is to be more functional, it may involve different movements every week.”
Weight training can take a variety of forms, using a range of equipment. Terms such as ‘strength’ and ‘resistance’ are commonly used to describe training that achieves similar results.
“The gym offers a toolbox of options – whether it’s using your own bodyweight as resistance, or free weights, fixed weights on a machine, kettlebells, sandbags or a TRX suspension trainer, it’s about challenging your body to get stronger,” explains Kaczmark.
Every six to eight weeks, your trainer will review your program to increase the stress on your body in small increments – this is called progressive overload.
“Slow and steady wins the race. Small increases in the weight you lift get you out of the comfort zone and into what’s called the adaptation stage, which is the burn just before fatigue where it feels like you can almost do another repetition,” says Kaczmark.
Once your body has adapted to an exercise, your trainer will change things up so that you keep seeing results. They will also help you monitor general fatigue and avoid DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which can result from training too hard, too soon.
Your lifestyle will dictate how often and when you do weights. Creating good habits is more important than when you train.
Kaczmark suggests starting with three sessions a week, consisting of two weight sessions and a class in between. But find what works for you.
“One session is better than none, two are better than one, and three are better than two,” she says.
Build at least a day in between weight sessions to allow proper recovery.
“Do whatever else you love doing in between weight sessions that won’t fatigue muscle groups, such as swimming or a yoga class. I do not recommend weight training five days a week. By week three, you won’t be able to get off the couch,” says Kaczmark.
Recovering properly is just as important as training, and there are several key factors that come into play.
Getting ample rest not only helps to regulate brain function and hunger hormones that influence appetite and fat storage, it also keeps the body’s repair systems in check.
“Weight training creates micro tears in the muscle,” explains Kaczmark. “When we sleep, amino acids from proteins we consume go into body repair, enabling muscles to heal to become leaner, stronger, more dense and ready for the next challenge.”
Be mindful of factors that could have negative flow-on effects, such as training late in the evening.
“If you’re training at 11pm, you’re not going to go into a deep sleep until at least 3am or 4am, which will contribute to a constant fatigue cycle,” says Kaczmark.
Hydrating consistently throughout the day will set you up for a quality workout. Avoid vitamin waters and sports drinks containing hidden sugars. For a dash of flavour, add fresh fruit such as lemon, lime or strawberries to water.
“Drink a glass of water before you do anything for the day. Have a glass out on the table at home and keep one on your desk so you remember to drink during the day. Hydration is more important than food when it comes to working out. A lot of people eat when they’re actually thirsty,” says Kaczmark.
Complex carbohydrates before a workout – such as a banana, low GI bread or a muesli bar – will help performance if you’re lacking in energy; stick to something light that won’t interfere with digestion.
After a workout, eating good quality protein within an hour will accelerate recovery. Animal products including meat, oily fish, eggs and dairy are the best sources.
“They contain the nine essential amino acids that we can’t produce ourselves,” explains Kaczmark. “If you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you eat a variety of foods, particularly those containing high levels of Vitamin B12.”
Your trainer will take you through a light cardio warm-up, an essential part of preparing your muscles. They can also show you pre- and post-workout stretches to enhance recovery and prevent injury.
When can I expect results?
Expect to feel better immediately. Even after one session, you’re likely to feel stronger and more motivated. Over time, with good nutrition and sleep, expect improvements in body composition and strength by your first program review.